Saturday, December 3, 2016

Governing is not a Popularity Contest

While much of the weekend’s media attention was focused on President-Elect Donald Trump’s faux pas with China, there is another serious and related blunder being perpetrated by the Grifter-in-Chief that will have a deleterious impact on America’s economic leadership in the world.

Relegated to page A13 of today’s New York Times is an article outlining how Mr. Trump is surrounding himself with Wall Street cronies on his Strategic and Policy Forum and eschewing participation from the Silicon Valley technology sector.

This is not surprising because while Wall Street generally supported Mr. Trump in the election, Silicon Valley generally supported Hillary Clinton.

It’s also not surprising when you consider the difference between Wall Street and Silicon Valley. Wall Streeters make their fortune by promoting elaborate schemes that use other people’s money while minimizing their own risk. When things go bad, they depend on government bail outs and tax breaks. Silicon Valley actually invents and build things that improve people’s lives, and its companies live and die based on their ability to perform. Trump made his fortune by emulating the Wall Street paradigm, not Silicon Valley’s.

By downplaying input from the innovators, Trump is losing the opportunity to keep America in the forefront of economy-driving technologies like the Internet and the biomedical market. Other nations (which have far superior educational systems) will fill that void, further threatening America’s global economic leadership.

A leader does not surround himself with toadies, as Trump has done with his cabinet and is doing with his economic advisors. Trump obviously feels that the election is still ongoing, as evidenced by his rallies, his off-the-cuff pronouncements (see: Taiwan), and his selection of advisors.

I’ll end this piece the same way that the Times author ended his – talking about General Electric, but with a touch of personal nostalgia. From the Times article:

“The most curious selection [to Trump’s panel] may be that of John F. Welch Jr., the former head of General Electric. The current G.E. chief, Jeffrey R. Immelt, a Republican,  is not on the list of advisers. Mr. Immelt had criticized Mr. Trump comments about Mexicans and Muslims.”

I was an employee of GE Aerospace during Welch’s reign, and twice had the occasion to meet him. The fact that he was not a nice person is irrelevant. Prior to Welch, companies like GE supported the Department of Defense with systems and equipment through various contracts, with profits and patriotism taking equal footings. In 1993, Welch sold GE’s defense business to Martin Marietta. This was the start of a massive consolidation of America’s defense suppliers from dozens of companies to less than a handful of big players today. Competition is virtually nonexistent, the defense budget is up, and is somewhat dependent on perpetual wars and continued global tension. Trump and Welch are cut from the same cloth, so it’s no surprise that Immelt was ignored while Welch was named to “help” his kindred spirit Trump.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Keep Calm and Think Before You Vote

Every American voter has the right to vote as he or she chooses. But if you’re supporting a third party candidate in the presidential election, then you don’t completely understand American politics. And worse, you may be throwing the election to Donald Trump, the way Ralph Nader threw the 2000 election to George Dubya Bush.

Until we change our electoral system, the inconvenient truth is that there are only two choices for the Oval Office – the Democratic and the Republican candidates. Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump. Both have flaws that give voters significant concerns.

Choosing between the “lesser of two evils” is not a new phenomenon. Voters have been faced with this dilemma for decades.

The American presidential election system is fundamentally unfair. The way it is currently implemented locks in the two-party system and locks out other groups. Any third party that gains enough traction to garner even a few electoral votes has the high probability that the Electoral College will reach a deadlock and throw the contest into the House of Representatives in a scheme that is even more unbalanced than the Electoral College.

Exacerbating the problem is the fact that because the government is run by the two major parties, there’s no incentive to make it more viable for any third party. So while in an ideal world, it would be beneficial to have more than two choices, it’s not going to happen – at least not in the lifetime of any current voter.

Change must come from within. The 1994 takeover of the Republican Party by the Tea Party fundamentally transformed to GOP from the Party of Lincoln to the Party of Selfishness. Voters who put the likes of Trey Gowdy and Louis Gohmert into power put their short-term greed of lowering taxes ahead of the American tradition of investing in infrastructure and education for future generations. On the other side of the aisle, the transformation of the Democratic party that was started by the Bernie Sanders movement was not successful in this election cycle, but is not dead yet. If congressional candidates like Zephyr Teachout in New York and Peter Jacob in New Jersey can be victorious, they can plant the seeds for a populist shift in the Democratic party.

Those people who rail about the lack of choice in the presidential election would be better off holding their collective noses and voting for Hillary Clinton, while at the same time working hard at the grassroots level to transform the Democratic party the same way the Tea Party radicals did to the GOP.

If you’re disillusioned with American politics (and few aren’t) and decide to vote for a third party because you’re “making a statement”, it might make you feel good. But on a macro level, you know you’re throwing away your vote. And maybe ceding the Oval Office to Donald Trump. The euphoria of voting your heart instead of your mind will be ephemeral, but the damage that a Trump presidency would inflict will be generational.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Elections are Discrete. Opinions are Continuous

As in most elections, we are seeing some people exhibit an immature attitude toward voting that goes something like this:

“My candidate did not win at the convention. Therefore, I’m not voting.”


“My candidate did not win at the convention. Therefore I’m voting for [insert name of some fringe party candidate here].”

That’s their prerogative. But if they do vote that way, they need to understand that they are really throwing their vote away in an unnoticeable protest that may make them feel good but helps elect a person they abhor.

Time for a quick lesson in statistics. Bear with me. Even if you hated math in school, this is an everyday life reality.

A variable, or quantitative property of a thing, can be discrete or continuous. The web site explains the difference clearly and succinctly:

Suppose the fire department mandates that all fire fighters must weigh between 150 and 250 pounds. The weight of a fire fighter would be an example of a continuous variable; since a fire fighter's weight could take on any value between 150 and 250 pounds.

Suppose we flip a coin and count the number of heads. The number of heads could be any integer value between 0 and plus infinity. However, it could not be any number between 0 and plus infinity. We could not, for example, get 2.5 heads. Therefore, the number of heads must be a discrete variable.

Now, apply these definitions to elections.

Opinions are continuous (and for purists, multivariate). Take, for example, capital punishment. You may believe that capital punishment is good and is a deterrent and should be an option in all murder and rape verdicts. You may believe that capital punishment is barbaric, counterproductive, and should never be an option. Or your beliefs may be somewhere in between; for example, it should only be used when the victim is a law enforcement officer.

Since there are many issues, and many shades of continuous opinion, there’s an excellent possibility that where you sit on the opinion spectrum is not where any candidate sits. You have to choose the candidate whose philosophy is closest to yours and accept the fact that he or she is not in lock step with you.

On the other hand, elections are discrete. You can’t cast three quarters of a vote for Hillary Clinton and one quarter of a vote for Donald Trump. Sure, you can vote for Jill Stein or David Duke, but the reality of today’s electoral system in the United States is that if you vote is to count, you need to select from a field of two.

Maybe you agree with Hillary Clinton on most issues, but are really troubled by her trade policy. If you want your vote to count, you should vote for her anyway, and simultaneously support an advocacy organization that seeks to move trade policy in a direction you’re comfortable with. If you stay home, or vote for a third party candidate, you’re throwing away your vote for the portions of Clinton’s platform that you agree with, and making it easier for Donald Trump to gain ground.

You may not be enamored of Hillary Clinton’s approach. But this election will be closer than many of us who live in the progressive bubble realize. Take it from an early Bernie Sanders supporter – anything less than full-throated support for Hillary Clinton helps put a racist, misogynistic xenophobe one step closer to the White House. You may have to hold your nose to vote for Hillary, but it’s the right thing to do. And be sure to vote for progressive candidates down the line in your home district, and support similar candidates across the nation.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

The Lesser of Two Evils

Quite often in American politics, voters lament that they are stuck with the choice of "the lesser of two evils." There's a bit of hyperbole there because what they really mean is that they are forced to choose between two candidates, neither of which appeals to them. These candidates are not necessarily evil. I'll even grant that in the 2009 New Jersey gubernatorial campaign, the choice was not the lesser of two evils, but rather the highly unpopular and ineffective incumbent Jon Corzine and the untested unknown Bush consigliere Chris Christie. At that time, neither was "evil", so using the phrase was convenient but inappropriate.

Even now, in the presidential campaign, people are still wringing their hands, calling the Clinton/Trump a selection of "the lesser of two evils." Still, this is not correct. Donald Trump IS evil. He's a misogynist, a xenophobe, and a bigot. But say what you want about Hillary Clinton - she's not evil. You may disagree with her policies. You may think she stepped over the line with her campaign finances. You may even believe the Fox propaganda that she single-handedly was responsible for Benghazi (hint: she was not. It was the GOP congress that cut funding for embassy security). But she's not evil. She has devoted her life to public service, for advancing charitable causes, and inspiring a generation of women and girls to get involved in politics.

So this election is NOT a choice between the lesser of two evils. It's a choice between evil and good.

I'm not thrilled with the entire scope of Hillary's policies. But I love America. America is too good to have another racist president. So I will support Hillary as if our country's life depended on it, not because she's the lesser of two evils. Because she is better than that.